Born in January 1957, in Siegen/Westfalen, Germany, Bernward Koch began his musical endeavors when he was 12, playing the French horn in the brass band of his village. Later, he switched to the trumpet “to be able to play more melodies” and played in a marching band. He soon broadened his interests to bass, guitar, and drums and began playing in various music groups and local bands. At age 15, very soon after his father, an accordion player, gave him a piano, Bernward began taking piano lessons. Right away he displayed an aptitude for improvisation and composition, and so the piano became his primary instrument.
When he was 16, Bernward attended a concert by the legendary German rock group Kraan. This would prove to be a pivitol moment in young Bernward’s career. As he states, “I will never forget that; I was totally absorbed by the music, and from then on I knew I must be a professional musician.” Later in his career, in 2006, the Kraan keyboardist became ill one day before a performance at a big festival. So Bernward was invited to step in for him. In Bernward words, having an opportunity to play with the band that had so impacted his career ambitions “was really great.”
His enthusiasm for music continued to grow, especially for Jazz, Rock, Pop, and Folk, but particularly for Classical music. In his early twenties, he began studying music at The University of Cologne and, with his brother, participated in several music workshops at the University of Bremen, Academy Remscheid, and Schloß Weikersheim. Meanwhile, he also continued to play keyboards and percussion in various Jazz-Rock bands.
In 1989 he signed his first recording contract as a solo instrumental artist. That album, “Flowing,” was released in 1990, and immediately received widespread acclaim, achieving a top position on the Billboard New Age Chart. One song in particular from that album, “Ever Returning,” was chosen to be included on two AIDS benefit compilation albums. The charitable projects, were spearheaded by the Elizabeth Taylor Foundation and California radio station KTWV – THE WAVE (Wave Aid 4 – 1991), and radio station KKSF (KKSF Sampler For AIDS Relief 3). They produced albums that also included musical contributions from artists such as Sting, Bonnie Raitt, Al Jarreau, Ottmar Liebert, Lauren Wood, Bob James/David Sanborn, Dave Grusin/Lee Ritenouer, David Arkenstone, David Lanz, and Yanni.
Also in 1992, Bernward’s musical career took a major leap forward when his album “Laguna de la Vera” remained high on the Billboard New Age chart for a couple of months. In fact, it became one of the most highly acclaimed instrumental albums worldwide that year. Subsequent albums, including “Still Magic” (1995), “Picante” (1997), “Journey to the Heart” (1999), and “Walking Through The Clouds” (2005), were also highly successful.
In 2008, “Montagnola,” a live solo piano album, won the “Piano-Heaven” award in England and became the “Audio Highlight of the Month” of the German journal STEREO in September of 2009. The album was dedicated to the Nobel Prize winning German author Herman Hesse, who, while living in Germany during World War II, disdained the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, worked against Hitler’s suppression of art and literature that protested Nazi ideology, and assisted other persecuted authors with their escape into exile. Hesse died in 1962, and was buried in Montagnola, in the canton of Ticino, in Switzerland, near the Italian border.
Bernward’s more recent albums “Gentle Spirit” (2009), “Silent Star” (2011), and “Day of Life” (2013) have continued to demonstrate Bernward’s immense talent, both as a composer, and as a multi-instrumentalist, and have made him one of the most beloved instrumental musicians worldwide.
Generally speaking, Bernward’s music can be described as slow, reflective, expressive, emotional, tender, gently optimistic, warm, and soothing, with “electric piano” as the lead voice. And although we are not normally inclined toward purely “electronic” music, two qualities of Bernward’s music make it stand out.
First, with it’s richly integrated electronic accompaniment, clever use of electronic and percussive accents, and sophisticated layering, the music is certainly complex and rich enough to keep it interesting with repeated plays.
Secondly, Bernward has an uncanny penchant for infusing his music with creative, catchy, clever, and quite memorable melodies. In fact, at times his melodies seem eerily familiar, almost as though that particular “beautiful” string of notes has always been in my head, just waiting for Bernward to come along and reveal them to me. In any event, his music is ideal background music for a quiet dinner, reading, deep listening, or simply relaxing. That is most likely why several major airlines around the world, including United Airlines, Japan Airlines, Lufthansa, Korean Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Air China, provide his music for the enjoyment of their passengers.
Bernward Koch’s latest album, “Remembering,” is a strong and rich collection of masterfully rendered soundscapes inspired by those special moments and experiences destined to become our most vivid and unforgettable “memories” – and that help to define who we are as unique individuals. The album, which is also impeccably produced, features thirteen “electric piano” driven tracks in Bernward’s signature slow, reflective, and expressive style. Bernward composed, arranged, produced and performed all thirteen tracks and appears on piano, keyboards, synthesizer, guitar, bass, glockenspiel, cymbals, and gong. He is also accompanied by his wife, Christiane Bohm, on flute, and his brother Christoph on 12-string guitar, drums, and percussion. His other brother Moritz Koch appears on electric guitar on the closing track.
“Remembering,” the title track, and “Over The Fields” are similar – slow, gentle, and reflective, piano driven pieces, with light electronic accompaniment (synthesizer, guitar), electronic and percussive accents, and strong, memorable, and emotional melodies. “Remembering” is an especially powerful start to the album and is one of our favorite tracks.
“New Morning,” which reflects the new opportunity that comes with every new day, is similar to “Remembering” – slow, reflective, and emotional – but with perhaps more of an improvisational quality at times, more piano driven, and with less pronounced electronic accompaniment. It is also one of the longer tracks on the album.
In contrast, “My Secret” is a bit more up tempo and more cheerfully melodic, with a steady but subtle percussive rhythm, light electronic accents, and minimal accompaniment.
“Longing For Night in Summer” is a haunting, beautiful, and intensely emotional piece, with a particularly strong piano opening, an exceptional and memorable melody, and especially masterful layering and integration of the electronic accompaniment. It is also one our most favorite tracks on the album.
“Time of Innocence” is an exceptionally well-crafted piano driven work with another especially strong and catchy melody. It is perhaps the most up tempo track on the album, with light percussion, and a steady but subtle beat. A definite favorite.
What may very well be the best track on the album, “The Sunlit Hill,” is a more complex, up tempo track, with a strong, memorable melody, electronic accents, and outstanding accompaniment, including light guitar and synthesizer. It certainly left us wanting more.
“Threads of Mastery” is again a much slower, sophisticated, reflective, emotional song, with another particularly powerful, innovative, complex, and memorable melody, with strong, well-integrated accompaniment. It also is a particular favorite.
“Carefree Sunday” is a very captivating and more upbeat, piano driven commentary, with many of the acoustic qualities of a ballad, and “calling out” for lyrics. In fact, as I was listening I was honestly feeling compelled to invent my own lyrics as it went along.
“Floating Feather” is very slow, relaxed, down tempo, and at times bordering on ambient. It is also occasionally intensely reflective and emotional, with beautiful and subtle electronic accents, and well integrated accompaniment.
Easily the most richly complex and orchestrated track on the album is the final track – “Through The Universe.” It is also the longest track on the album, with a dazzling expressive melody, strong and much more prominent percussion, a steady rhythm, and occasional jazz and rock infused accompaniment featuring flute, electric guitar and synthesizer. It represents a very strong ending to the album.
In summary, fans of Bernward Koch music will find this album a powerful and standout addition to their collection. The music is innovative, complex, reflective, and sophisticated, and generally consistent with Bernward’s signature style. At times, it is also intensely emotional and always quite “simply beautiful.” Very highly recommended.